Thu, May 22, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Saudi Arabia braces for second wave

WAITING With news that more terrorist attacks are imminent, foreign embassies are expecting the worst even as the kingdom has finally been galvanized into action

AFP , RIYADH,SAUDI ARABIA

The US, Germany and Britain closed their embassies to the public yesterday, fearing new terror strikes in Saudi Arabia as the hunt for Islamic extremists stepped up.

London and Washington both announced fresh intelligence indicated attacks were imminent in the kingdom where 25 people died along with nine suicide bombers in a May 12 suicide mission.

Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, the de facto ruler of the world largest oil exports, vowed Tuesday night to capture those threatening Saudi Arabia.

And the effort appeared to bear fruit with a security official reporting that Saudi forces had arrested "at least three members" of Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda terror network, which was blamed for the triple suicide bombings last week against expatriates in the Saudi capital.

The US State Department said its embassy in Riyadh as well as consulates in Dhahran and Jeddah would remain shut from yesterday until at least Sunday.

Britain's Foreign Office announced the closure yesterday of the embassy in Riyadh, consulate in Jeddah and trade office in Al-Khobar.

"We have received credible information that further terrorist attacks against unspecified targets in Saudi Arabia are being planned and may take place imminently," a Foreign Office spokeswoman said.

Both missions have repeatedly warned their citizens to take extreme care.

Berlin followed suit, with the foreign ministry saying that the consular section of the German embassy in Riyadh and consulate in Jeddah would stay shut until at least tomorrow.

Germany's federal intelligence service, BND, has also warned that al-Qaeda had reorganized and could be planning more attacks in Africa, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan.

Al-Qaeda's "support network and its potential for recruitment in Saudi Arabia, but also in Yemen, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait remains intact" despite security crackdowns, said a BND report quoted in Die Welt newspaper.

Hammered in the West after the Sept. 11, 2001 suicide attacks carried out mainly by Saudis, the kingdom has been galvanized into action by terror on its own doorstep.

A feisty Crown Prince Abdullah swore Tuesday that the perpetrators of the Riyadh attacks would be brought to justice.

"The people who carried out these terrorist attacks and those who helped them will be severely punished," Abdullah said.

He described the plotters as belonging to "a band of renegades who wage war on the [Islamic] doctrine, the homeland and the [Arab] nation."

Riyadh has cracked down, extending patrols by armed police and National Guard troops throughout the capital of 4.5 million. Drivers are being quizzed and vehicles examined at countless roadblocks and checkpoints.

The government on Tuesday urged Saudi nationals to carry their civil ID cards at all times, saying they must be shown to officials on demand. Armored vehicles with mounted machine-guns are parked outside modern residential complexes housing Westerners and concrete barriers have been erected to ward off more attacks.

Police are also stationed at shopping malls, where all vehicles must now undergo security screening before being allowed to use underground carparks.

The number of shoppers in Riyadh's main malls has dropped significantly during the past week with senior Saudi officials also warning of the possibility of more bombings.

Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the US, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, said Monday that around 50 hardcore extremist militants were in Saudi Arabia, veterans of the conflict in Afghanistan who had probably influenced up to 300 more people to join them.

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